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Aquatic Physiotherapy – “Water way to exercise!”

Aquatic Physiotherapy

Aquatic physiotherapy, also called hydrotherapy, is a great way of exercising to manage and treat a variety of conditions due to the properties of water and the fun to be had!

Hydrotherapy is a term that can be used to describe a range of activities relating to water, from spas to colonic washouts!  To avoid confusion, we use the term aquatic physiotherapy to mean therapeutic and exercise activities carried out in a [heated] pool.

Hydrotherapy Pool

Typically, aquatic physiotherapy/hydrotherapy is performed in a pool that is heated between 32-35 degrees Celsius. It is an alternative or complement to land-based therapy and is suitable for people of all ages and fitness including children, older people, and people living with a disability.

Typically, hydro pools have all abilities access and are shallow enough to permit walking in the water.

In the absence of access to a heated hydro pool, your physiotherapist may be able to conduct sessions at your local pool or leisure centre.

Benefits of Aquatic Therapy

“The aim of aquatic physiotherapy is to assist with the rehabilitation of neurological, musculoskeletal, cardiopulmonary and psychological function of the individual. In some cases, it will also assist in maintaining the person’s level of function or preventing deterioration e.g. balance and falls prevention or prevent injury.”

(Aquatic Physiotherapy Guidelines, 2015, Australian Physiotherapy Association)

Common Goals and Benefits:

  • Build muscle strength and endurance
  • Increase or maintain physical function and independence
  • Assist with gait retraining
  • Improve balance and flexibility
  • Improve lung function and aerobic fitness
  • Reduce stress and pain
  • Promote relaxation
  • Benefit overall health and wellbeing


Principles of Aquatic Therapy

The properties of water result in unique effects to exercising on land.

  • Reduced weight-bearing load, and pain reduction

The buoyancy of water reduces the effect of gravity on body weight and correlates directly to the amount of body below the surface of the water.  For example, standing waist-deep unloads body weight by 50%; standing nipple deep unloads by 75%, and standing neck-deep unloads 90% body weight.

This effect reduces joint loading and can provide increased freedom of movement that may not be possible on land.

Hydrostatic pressure is the static pressure of water pressing against an object or a person.  This provides compression to joints and muscles, increases efficiency of the heart by helping venous return (circulation back to the heart) and therefore reduces peripheral swelling and increases lymphatic drainage.

The temperature of hydro pools can vary, particularly if you and your therapist are accessing local leisure centre facilities.  Some clients will benefit from heated hydrotherapy pools, which can have the same muscle relaxation effects as applying a heat pack.  Those involved in aerobic programs may prefer slightly cooler pools.

The combined effect of freedom of movement, reduced loading, reduced swelling, and relaxation from the warmth of the water promotes pain reduction.

  • Increased function – strength, balance, and aerobic capacity

Your Physiotherapist can design a graded, individualised, specific exercise program to increase strength, improve balance, and benefit lung function using the properties of water.

Buoyancy can be used to increase or decrease the challenge of an exercise.  For example, when standing and taking the leg out to the side (abduction), lifting the leg is assisted by buoyancy.  But to bring the leg back down again, effort is required to overcome buoyancy, creating a challenge for the muscles.

Hydrodynamics is the force created when moving through water, causing resistance in front of the object. We can increase or decrease the resistance of the water by changing the shape or surface area of the object.

For example, using a float or water weights will increase resistance when pushing against the water, creating a good strengthening exercise.  Increasing the speed of a movement increases the resistance of the water, again providing a resistance exercise that a person can achieve in water that they may not be able to achieve on land.

By increasing water turbulence, your therapist can create safe but challenging balance exercises in the pool as loss of balance will not to lead to a fall or injury in water.

Swimming increases lung function and aerobic capacity plus properties of the water increase cardiac efficiency.  Freedom of movement achieved by exercising in water can provide aerobic benefits when those exercises are not possible on land.

(It is important to mention however, increased demand on your cardiovascular system is not suitable for everyone so a risk screening will be completed prior to commencing aquatic physiotherapy.)

  • Overall improvement in independence and well-being

The many benefits exercising in water affords such as increased strength and balance, reduced pain, and improved freedom of movement can result in increased confidence and independence and an overall improvement in well-being.

Aquatic physiotherapy sessions can also provide support and assistance for the person and their families/carers.  Increased physical activity can improve social interaction and camaraderie.

WARNING: You may seriously enjoy it!


Getting started with Aquatic Physiotherapy

Aquatic Physiotherapy is effective and safe and there are many benefits however exercising in water does have its own risks and not all conditions are suitable for exercising in water.  Your Physiotherapist will conduct a thorough assessment and risk screening to fully understand your current function, medical history, and goals to find out if aquatic therapy is right for you.  You may also require medical clearance from your doctor.

If you are interested in undertaking aquatic physiotherapy, speak with one of our knowledgeable physiotherapists today!

Call 1300 340 440 or complete our enquiry form below.

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